The Crystal Ark – Trance World Funk
As I negotiated how to enter the Civic Center basement for the last two shows of Moogfest still on an incredible thrillbuzz from Escort, minutes earlier, I entered the large room expecting to hear the Erasure-ish sounds of Museum Of Love, having possibly already begun. I had lagged behind at Escort, and their show had run long, and I thought that it would have eaten up the 30 minutes between the gigs as scheduled. That may have been a correct assumption, but when I entered the venue, an entirely different sound was happening.
This was trancelike world beat funk featuring synths, congas, bass, and female vocals that crossed multiple cultural and gender lines to arrive at a rich point of infinite possibilities. I checked my Moogfest schedule and this sure seemed like The Crystal Ark instead of Museum Of Love, which was fine, because they had also been pencilled in on my tentative schedule! And what I was hearing was far more intriguing than synth pop in the Erasure vein. The long jams were lithe, sinuous, and a perfect contrast to the taut vibe Escort had just delivered. The shakeup of the DFA records lineup at the venue is evening had very much worked to my benefit. The common points of reference between Escort and The Crystal Ark were their groove, funky synths, and the feminine energy that they both relied upon, but apart from that, they were each unique propositions.
The main vocals were by Viva Ruiz and Jaiko Suzuki, and it was refreshing to hear a synthesis of Hispanic and Japanese culture cross pollinating into synthesized dance music. Occasionally, synth player Gavin Russom would add his falsetto vocals to the mix to intriguing effect. This lent the music an exotic hint of Shriekback that was most appreciated. The female vocalists wee dressed in garb strongly reminiscent of what I had seen members of Sun Ra’s Arkestra wear on their infamous Saturday Night Live appearance in the mid-70s. In fact, it seemed as though The Crystal Ark were building their sound using seed DNA from Sun Ra, though arriving at a very different sound in the end.
This was amplified when the five piece band were joined onstage by a female and male dancer, each clad in form concealing spandex sheaths while they more accurately assumed yogic postures rather than dance, per se. This was a very groovy happening and I was glad that there was room in the huge basement to actually dance instead of being packed in like a sardine like we were at Escort. Not only was the music transporting the audience, but it was the second show in a row with full range, musical sound. And that was appreciated.
The set was a rich complement to the evening’s music that served to increase the breadth of the Moogfest experience in a delightfully unexpected fashion. I had entered the UCCC Basement expecting synthpop and had been given something much richer by The Crystal Ark. I later looked into the band’s story and learned of Russom’s history as a custom analog synth builder to bands I’d heard of [but not heard] such as Unkle and LCD Soundsystem, and also of his educational background in composition. His wisdom in seeking out collaborators like Ms. Ruiz to broaden his scope was astute. This ensured that The Crystal Ark stood out from the morass of DJs at Moogfest this year.
Next: …The final set